News

UK: CRIME ASSETS AGENCY SCRAPPED

In an apparent further bid to centralise efforts to combat organised crime the Home office has announces that the Assets Recovery Agency (Ara) will be scrapped and by 2008 will be merged with the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca). The proposals are however still subject to Parliamentary approval.

The move follows criticism of the performance of the Ara, after it emerged last year that it cost four times as much to run as it recovered from criminals. Meanwhile the Merseyside police’s Attacking Criminal Economies (Ace) program seems highly succesful. Liverpool police succesfully confiscated £6.5m last year.

UK: CRIME ASSETS AGENCY SCRAPPED

In an apparent further bid to centralise efforts to combat organised crime the Home office has announces that the Assets Recovery Agency (Ara) will be scrapped and by 2008 will be merged with the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca). The proposals are however still subject to Parliamentary approval.

The move follows criticism of the performance of the Ara, after it emerged last year that it cost four times as much to run as it recovered from criminals. Meanwhile the Merseyside police’s Attacking Criminal Economies (Ace) program seems highly succesful. Liverpool police succesfully confiscated £6.5m last year.

MAFIA IN ISRAEL: BOTTLE RECYCLING TAKEOVER

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said yesterday that police are investing great effort and resources toward trying to prevent organized crime from taking over bottle recycling. Speaking to the Knesset plenum, Dichter added that the police are treating this initiative as part of a broader effort to stop organized crime’s takeover of legitimate activities.

According to Dichter, the complexity of the phenomenon requires an integrated inter-establishment effort, in order to deal with the issue in a thorough and efficient manner. This, said Dichter, also requires time. Dichter stressed that the investigation is being conducted by Tel Aviv District Police and while no arrests have been made so far, some are expected in the future.

“The activities of organized crime and the takeover of the bottle recycling branch is part of an ongoing trend in recent years of infiltration and takeover of legitimate departments by organized crime, as part of the effort to launder money and increase income by these organizations,” said Dichter. Dichter said the takeover is usually conducted through threats, extortion, and severe violence, which is often accompanied by the use of firearms. According to Dichter, this is part of the power struggle between the groups themselves.

The primary motive for organized crime to dominate bottle recycling is monetary profit, as well as the potential to take advantage of the branch for money laundering. Dichter stressed that the criminals involved come from all echelons of crime, including national and local crime organizations, as well as independent criminals.

Haaretz.com 11-01-2007

CALL FOR PAPERS: ‘CORRUPTION AND DEMOCRACY IN EUROPE: PUBLIC OPINION AND SOCIAL REPRESENTATIONS’

ECPR GENERAL CONFERENCE, PISA, 6 8 SEPTEMBER 2007

CALL FOR PAPERS

‘Corruption and Democracy in Europe: Public Opinion and Social Representations’

We wish to organise panels for the ECPR General Conference in Pisa, 6 8 September 2007. The panel(s) will be entitled ‘Corruption and Democracy in Europe: Public Opinion and Social Representations’. Anyone who would like to give a paper should e-mail Oscar Mazzoleni (oscar.mazzoleni@ti.ch), Jim Newell (j.l.newell@salford.ac.uk) or Odette Tomescu-Hatto (odette.hatto@sciences-po.org) by no later than 10 February with a short abstract (circa 300 words) describing the paper they want to present.

The point of departure for the panel is three-fold: 1) awareness of the importance of public confidence in the standards of conduct of the holders of public office as a key variable impacting on the stability and effectiveness of democratic regimes; 2) awareness that concerns about such conduct have come to be an increasingly prominent feature of public life in European societies over the past two decades; 3) awareness that there are few studies of the expectations and perceptions of general publics in relation to the standards of conduct of public office holders.

At the most general level, therefore, the purpose of the panels will be to explore, on a cross-national, comparative basis: (1) the kinds of conduct/practices have been made visible to the public and how; (2) the current ‘state of the art’ regarding research into public norms and values, and into perceptions and evaluations of the conduct of public office-holders; (3) the related theoretical and conceptual issues that require addressing in order to advance beyond the current position and enable us to establish (a) what publics regard as acceptable and unacceptable on the part of public office-holders and how such attitudes vary; (b) how far the behaviour of public office-holders is in fact perceived as acceptable and how such perceptions vary; (c) how far publics believe that public office-holders will be held to account when their behaviour is unacceptable and how such beliefs vary; (d) how office-holders (or office-seekers) try to use (anti-)corruptive rhetoric in political competition.

Within these broad themes, we welcome papers focussing on any specific aspect of corruption and related behaviours; their social representation; policy makers’ responses to concerns about corruption and related behaviours.

Details of the conference can be found on the ECPR’s web site

COMBATING ORGANISED CAR THEFT IN NZ: STALLING TACTICS

The double garage behind a tidy suburban house looked like any other, but the roller doors masked a hive of illegal endeavour. When police following a tipoff called, they found more than they bargained for. “We thought there was one [stolen] car there; when we found nine it was the jackpot,” says Constable Phil Saville of Howick police.

It was the kind of operation that would keep many mainstreet mechanics in new overalls: two cars being dismantled and rebuilt, two more ready to go, parts from another five scattered around. The police call them chop shops – this one catered to the top end of the market. Being taken to bits was a shiny new Holden HSV GTO valued at $120,000. Black, two-door, six speed, it was nicked from a car groomer’s yard while being readied for its buyer. When police walked in, its front body panels, dashboard, doors and seats had been put on an older model Commodore, stripped to its shell. The 6-litre engine was about to go. The chop shop was connected to a gang with a penchant for HSVs, says Saville.

About 30 per cent of car theft is linked to organised crime.

The market is varied: cars may be chopped up for parts; the “jewellery” on high performance models switched to standard cars, as in this case; some are stolen to order and shipped overseas; others are sold within days at a knockdown price after the vehicle identification number (VIN) and plates are swapped. But in the case of the HSV GTO, microdot identification had been sprayed on to all parts. The microdots helped police return the car, and all its parts, to the importer, Schofield’s.

The identification procedure is called whole of vehicle marking: thousands of microscopic dots encoded with the car’s make and VIN number and contained in an adhesive film are sprayed on to all parts, including the engine, wheels, inside of panels and seats. The procedure takes minutes and can be done during assembly or on assembled cars. Police equipped with ultraviolet magnifying torches can quickly read the pinhead-size dots to tell if a car is legitimate. Microdots are difficult to remove – and it takes only one to establish a case. The technology is not new – microdots were first used in 1948 by spies.

Two years ago, the Government promised to introduce whole of vehicle marking on all cars as they enter the country as part of a major crackdown on vehicle crime. Police and Justice officials see enormous potential to cure one of the country’s biggest crime sores. In the year to June 30, according to Statistics NZ, 22,890 motor vehicles were stolen, up nearly 20 per cent in a year. Police records suggest only one in five were recovered.

Overseas, whole of vehicle marking has led to dramatic falls in thefts of high performance vehicles when introduced by manufacturers as an option for car owners. But New Zealand was poised to be the first country to introduce mandatory whole of vehicle marking.

Car theft is not exactly a top priority for hard-pressed police, given the painstaking detection work involved, the limited chances of success and the fact most owners can claim insurance. But it costs the country about $80 million a year and adds to the insurance premiums of every motorist. It is also increasingly linked to organised crime – gangs use the proceeds to import drugs and finance other crime. Police say whole of vehicle marking could save thousands of hours spent tracing stolen cars and parts, freeing them to solve violent crime cases and other priorities. “We talk to criminals – they know about them and don’t want to touch them,” says Senior Constable Mark Gibson, a motor vehicle crime investigator with Wellington CIB. “Crooks are concerned these cars have thousands of dots on them which you can’t get rid of. If the car’s going to sit in the backyard or in the chop shop for a couple of days they run the risk of being caught.”

There is also the potential to solve other crimes: it’s not unusual for parts to fall off vehicles during hit and runs, car chases and aggravated robberies, which often involve stolen vehicles. Gibson cites an aggravated robbery at a petrol station in which the getaway car clipped a fence, leaving behind a bumper. “It took us 10 days to identify the make and model, year of manufacture, whether it was an import or New Zealand new, the number in New Zealand … If the car had microdots that would have taken 10 minutes.”

Jeremy Wood, director of the Justice Department’s crime prevention unit, also says microdotting has implications for organised crime. “It would have a significant impact on vehicle theft and the resale of parts. Speeding up investigations can help to prevent further offending.”

But two years on, proponents of whole of vehicle marking are wondering whether the initiative, supposed to be in place by the middle of last year, has hit a dead end. If the delay is frustrating police and potential industry players, the response of Cabinet ministers serves only to fuel emerging conspiracy theories. The Herald approached Minister of Police Annette King’s office for comment, but was directed to Minister of Transport Harry Duynhoven. “They’re handling it,” said King’s spokesman.

Duynhoven’s office asked that questions be put in writing. One day later the Herald received a brief written response – from King’s office. It said a consultant was being engaged to undertake a cost-benefit analysis. Before imposing such a scheme on New Zealanders, it was necessary to understand the compliance costs and benefits to consumers and the industry. King expected to report back to Cabinet in March.

Just why has it taken two years to get around to a cost-benefit analysis on an initiative hailed by former Justice Minister Phil Goff as “proven [as] a strong deterrent to professional criminals”? One potential operator, DataDot Technology, says reluctant vehicle importers have spread misinformation that it will cause unacceptable delays and add hundreds of dollars to the cost of newly imported vehicles. The right answer may be that the wrong Government department – the Ministry of Transport – was charged with implementing the scheme.

Steve Plowman, editor of the Police Association magazine Police News, suggested in an October article that differing agendas were behind the delay. “Police and the Ministry of Justice are in the business of crime reduction whereas the Ministry of Transport focuses on traffic safety … Transport may be tending towards pushing it towards the ‘too hard basket’.”

The ministry’s land safety legislation manager, Leo Mortimer denies a Government U-turn. “New Zealand will be the first country in the world to mandate whole of vehicle marking – it’s pretty important we get it right. “It’s important to have a system that meets requirements but doesn’t slow down vehicles coming into the country and doesn’t impose horrendous compliance costs.”

While whole of vehicle marking undergoes tortuous analysis, the second main plank of the Government’s vehicle crime reduction package is stalled. Vehicle immobilisers, which prevent cars being hotwired, were also to be fitted to all imports, Goff said in January 2005.

While immobilisers were now standard on most new vehicles, they were fitted to only 5 to 10 per cent of used imports. Immobilisers would deter “opportunistic” theft – thought responsible for three-quarters of vehicle crime – while whole of vehicle marking would close down the professional theft rings. But the Government believes whole of vehicle marking should be phased in ahead of compulsory immobilisers. Debate is focused partly on the cost of microdotting and partly on the logistics of treating an estimated 190,000 cars a year as they enter the country.

Motor Industry Association chief executive Perry Kerr, who represents new vehicle importers, puts the cost to motorists of applying the dots alone at “around $399 to $500 before GST”.

DataDot NZ managing director David Lumsden estimates the cost at $70 a car – lower if tests on new robot application technology prove effective. He says car owners will quickly recoup the cost through reductions in insurance premiums. The insurance industry agrees. Lumsden is frustrated by the lack of progress and suspects the transport ministry has been “got at” by car importers touting out-of-date information and misrepresenting the facts.

“The $70 tag is for only one part of the process,” Mortimer told the Weekend Herald. The length of time needed to apply the dots was also an issue, he explained. “We are looking at the wider benefits. There are professional thefts and opportunist thefts – for opportunists, it may not necessarily matter.”

That statement echoed views expressed by the motor industry’s Perry Kerr who told the Herald whole of vehicle marking should be confined to high value, high performance vehicles targeted by professionals. “There’s no doubt that it’s effective but we don’t believe you have to apply it to everything from Daihatsus to $400,000 vehicles. The [theft] problem lies at the higher end. “The Government has decided to treat all vehicle owners as part of this nanny state and impose a mandatory fee for data dotting your vehicle.”

DataDot’s Lumsden counters that Kerr’s $390-$500 estimate is mischievous and that he is choosing to ignore updated pricing information. He says whole of vehicle marking needs to be across the board or thieves will simply move on to unmarked makes and models.

Police figures suggest theft by professional rings accounts for more than a third of stolen vehicles and the rate is rising sharply. Senior Constable Jeff Haynes, one of the country’s few police specialists in stolen vehicles, says car thieves are not that picky. “Cars that young guys drive are by far the biggest market for spare parts – the most common car stolen is 10 to 12 years old.”

Haynes says microdots will make it easier to detect stolen parts. But he warns that the measure will have little impact unless police are directed, and funded, to investigate theft. “We’ve changed the rules with car dealers and second-hand dealers but no one visits the wreckers’ yards and looks at the books.” Few professional rings are caught because they maintain a low profile, he says. “There’s no way they’re going to get looked at by police unless someone dobs them in. Police have to be alerted that there’s something dodgy about the car in the first place.”

Haynes’ pessimism is not shared by his Wellington counterpart, Mark Gibson. “Police really have limited means of identifying cars. “The microdot system is the best investigative tool we’ve ever had.”

NZHerald.co.nz Saturday January 06, 2007

MORE THAN 3,000 SOLDIERS, FEDERAL POLICE TO FIGHT CRIME IN TIJUANA

TIJUANA, Mexico – The Mexican government announced Tuesday that it is sending more than 3,000 soldiers and federal police to fight drug gangs in the violent border city of Tijuana, the latest offensive by President Felipe Calderon who has promised to smash organized crime.
The force, backed by 28 boats, 21 planes and nine helicopters will mount checkpoints in the city, patrol the coast and hunt down suspected traffickers, Interior Secretary Francisco Ramirez Acuna said in a news conference in the presidential palace in Mexico City.

“We will carry out all the necessary actions to retake every region of national territory,” Ramirez Acuna said. “We will mot allow any state to be a hostage of narco traffickers or organized crime.”
Tijuana, over the border from San Diego, is one of the busiest border crossings in the world and has long been one of the favorite smuggling routes for cocaine, marijuana and meth amphetamines to the United States.

Last year, there were more than 300 killings in the city, most of which stemmed from fighting between rival drug gangs, investigators say. Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon welcomed the soldiers, saying he would like them to work hand in hand with city police who are conducting random security checkpoints.

Calderon, a conservative career politician, took office in December after winning a close election on a law and order platform.
Last month he sent 7,000 soldiers and federal police to his native state of Michoacan which has been plagued by execution style killings and beheadings as rival drug gangs fought over marijuana plantations and smuggling routes.

These troops have arrested more than 50 people, including several suspected leaders of the feuding cartels, as well as seizing large quantities of gold, bulletproof vests, military equipment and shirts with federal and municipal police logos.

Calderon is scheduled to make his first visit to the troops on Wednesday at a Michoacan military base. Calderon’s predecessor, Vicente Fox, promised the “mother of all battles” against organized crime, sending in thousands of soldiers and federal police to some drug embattled towns and arresting several major drug kingpins. But the arrests appeared to spark more violence as up-and-coming gangsters battled to take over the smuggling routes of those killed or arrested.

2 January 2007, AP

NEW BOOK: THE ORGANISATION OF CRIME FOR PROFIT. CONDUCT, LAW AND MEASUREMENT.

Petrus C. van Duyne, Almir Maljevic, Maarten van Dijck, Klaus von Lampe, James L. Newell (Eds.)
Softcover 205 pages (2006)
Publisher: Wolf Legal Publishers
Language: English
ISBN 10: 90-5850-220-1
Price: € 24,75

Synopsis (provided by the publisher)

Organised crime remains an important policy issue in Europe. Despite this
importance, it proves easier to measure the bird flu than a widely feared criminal social phenomenon like organised crime. That is understandable: the phenomon covers a wide range of different forms of ‘getting rich quickly’ by entrepreneurial crime. Also, the lack of conceptual consensus and the poor quality of the data do not facilitate the measurement of organised crime. In addition, the perimeter phenomenon has broadened: money laundering, which has been associated with organised crime from the very beginning, has become a phenomenon of its own with a universal dimension.
The increased focus on ill-gotten profits has brought financial and economic crime (by its nature organised) into the orbit of organised crime. In addition, the former USSR satellite states have (or are about to) become full members of the EU. This increased playground for the organisation of crime is a matter of growing concern.

In this sixth volume of the Cross-border Crime Colloquium, experts from eight European countries share their expertise regarding the measurement of organised crime, financial and economic criminality, money laundering, corruption and the Mafia and the organisation of business crime, comparing cartel building, labour subcontracting and cigarette smuggling.

This volume contains contributions from Petrus C. van Duyne, Klaus von Lampe, Maarten van Dijck, Rob Horsnby, Anna Markina, Karen Verpoest, Barbara Vettori, Miroslav Scheinost, Brendan Quirke, Norbert Wagner, Martin Boberg, Uwe Beckmann, Thomas Schulte and James L. Newell.

CALL FOR PAPERS: EUROPEAN CRIME-MARKETS AT CROSS-ROADS: EXTENDED AND EXTENDING CRIMINAL EUROPE

Ninth Cross-border Crime Colloquium 21 – 23 October 2007, Prague

The colloquium will be hosted by The Institute of Criminology and Social prevention

Theme: what is known about the development of crime-markets in Europe while the European Union has extended and, after a pause, will probably continue to extend. What will remain the same and what is likely to change?
Potential topics within this framework:

 The (organisation of) underground trade in prohibited substances, e.g. drugs.
 The ‘criminal services markets’, e.g. human smuggling.
 The ‘upperworld’ crime-economy: financial and economic crime.
 Criminal money management: laundering and the role of crime-money in the upperworld.
 Developments and changes in the international organisation of crime from a national perspective
 Upper- and underworld: crime, power and corruption

These topics are not suggested as an exhaustive list. Related topics are certainly welcomed. As usual the contributions will be peer reviewed and published in the well-known Colloquium Series. For this reason the contributors are requested to submit a draft of their intended paper before the Colloquium.

The Colloquium is free of charges and free residence is available for 20 foreign participants during the conference. Further information will be posted at cross-border-crime.net

ORGANIZED CRIME FINDING MORTGAGE FRAUD

The latest statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirm that mortgage fraud is on the upswing. “We can’t find a chart that doesn’t show up in a big way,” special agent Bill Stern said at a conference on the topic earlier this month in Las Vegas.

Even worse news, the FBI’s mortgage fraud coordinator in Washington said, is that the trend is moving away from rogue individuals who pull off the scams and toward members of organized crime. “Mortgage fraud is now a criminal enterprise that puts dollars in the hands of people who also are involved in such other crimes as drugs, murders and gangs,” Stern told the conference.

As of early this month, the G-man reported, the number of suspicious activity reports concerning mortgage fraud is up 62 percent from a year earlier. That, he said, “is a stark increase” compared to those alleging commercial loan fraud and false statements. Also up is the number of pending cases, the number of charges and convictions and the amount of cases in which losses against financial institutions, the government and individuals exceed $1 million, Stern reported. “We are now are prosecuting new cases at the rate of one a day,” he told the conference. As of the first week of December, he also reported, 54 percent of the losses attributed to mortgage fraud were more than $1 million.

Noting that the FBI must focus on these larger cases because it doesn’t have the resources to pursue every suspect, Stern called on the mortgage business to work hand-in-hand with law enforcement officials at the state and federal levels. “We can’t work these cases in a vacuum like we do drug cases, where lives are in danger and you don’t need any special expertise,” he told the meeting.

Encouraging lenders to participate in working groups and industry task forces “so we can leverage off your expertise,” the FBI official said agents can’t go to mortgage finance school for six months before they tackle a case of possible mortgage fraud. “We don’t have agents who work only mortgage finance cases as a career. They work a terrorist case, then a fraud case, then another kind of case, and they are all very different things. So we look to industry as a resource in helping us fight this growing crime.”

And to anyone in the housing finance system who has ever turned suspicious activities into the FBI for investigation and received no response, even months later, the G-man also let it be known that the agency feels your pain. “We share your frustration,” he said. “Agents who devote hundreds of hours investigating cases that aren’t prosecuted are frustrated, too.”

Stern’s mournful statement was in answer to a conference participant who wanted to know how come he never heard back from the FBI after his company had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in time and money to investigate possible corruption.

A supervisory special agent who is the mortgage fraud point man in Washington who decides how the FBI’s 56 field offices can best focus their limited resources, Stern didn’t have a direct answer for the questioner, who asked what it takes to get the agency to investigate a possible crime. The man said that while his company lost $6.2 million, the state was able to gain six felony plea agreements with the perpetrators.

Stern responded that the amount of the loss seemed sizable enough to warrant the FBI’s interest. But since he wasn’t familiar with the case, he couldn’t provide a more specific answer, other than to say “all cases can’t be prosecuted.” “It all comes down to monetary loss,” the special agent explained.

Realty Times, December 27, 2006

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